The Crusader Newspaper Group

Lois Dickson Rice, trailblazing executive behind Pell grants, dies at 83

By Sam Roberts,

Lois Dickson Rice, a janitor’s daughter who became a trailblazing corporate executive and helped persuade Congress to provide federal subsidies, known as Pell grants, to tens of millions of needy college students, died on Jan. 4 in Washington. She was 83.

The cause was pneumonia and cancer, her daughter, Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser to President Obama, said.

In the business world, Lois Rice was a director on several major company boards, including those of Firestone, McGraw-Hill and the Control Data Corporation, the supercomputer manufacturer. She was also a senior vice president of Control Data.

She joined the College Entrance Examination Board (now known as the College Board) in 1959. As an executive there, she promoted and helped shape the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant Program, whose chief sponsor was Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island.

The program, begun in 1972, awards grants rather than loans, mostly to undergraduates, on the basis of financial need. (A grant is designed to fill the gap between the cost of college and the family’s estimated contribution. This academic year, the maximum grant is $5,815.)

Ms. Rice continued to promote the program as director of the board’s Washington office and as its national vice president from 1973 to 1981.

Mr. Pell died in 2009. His grandson Clay Pell IV, a former deputy assistant secretary of the Education Department, said in a statement after Ms. Rice’s death, “This program was not inevitable, and it would not have come into existence without her, nor survived in the decades since without her passionate advocacy.”

Lois Anne Dickson was born on Feb. 28, 1933, in Portland, Me., the daughter of David Augustus Dickson and the former Mary Daly. Her father was a janitor at a music store; her mother was a maid. Both were Jamaican immigrants who sent all five of their children to college.

She graduated in 1954 from Radcliffe College, where she majored in history and literature and was president of the student body.


Recent News

Scroll to Top